Mumbai (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi, president of the ruling Congress party, are in Assam today, visiting areas where monsoon rains have left almost a million people homeless. At least 77 people have died from landslides. Another six are missing. Overall, some 2,000 villages in 27 of the northeastern state's districts are said to be under water.
The prime minister announced a subsidy of 100,000 rupees (US$ 1,800) per victim. The Defence Ministry is providing the full assistance of the army in the rescue operations.
Whilst the people of Assam are going through what many say is the worst flood since 1998, the rest of India is dry, with serious consequences for agriculture.
Officials with the India Meteorological Department (IMD) said that the rains should hit northern states at the end of this week, later than the 29 June forecast given as the start of the monsoon season. Compared to last year, 83 per cent of the country saw an average 31 per cent drop in rain.
Late seasonal monsoons, which were the exception but are now almost the rule, have raised concerns in a country where 235 million people are farmers. For this reason, the authorities have launched a US$ 75 million plan to study and forecast with greater accuracy the arrival of monsoons.
The plan includes the use of computer models developed by the UK and the US.
"Understanding the monsoon will be a major priority of the government for the next five years," said Shailesh Nayak, a senior official in the ministry of earth sciences.